Choosing The Correct Estate Agent

How do they work, fees and questions to ask

Buying and selling a home takes time, and it also takes estate agents. This is how the whole thing has gone for years. You look for a property in an estate agent’s window or on their website. You talk to the agent and then allow them to sell a property for you, or look for a new one. The whole process has been ingrained in culture for decades.

This doesn’t mean it’s easy though. And one of the biggest problems with using an estate agent is finding one you feel comfortable with. And because each estate agent has offices and staff in different areas, you could find that even established agents have wildly different standards and quality in different regions.

One way to combat issues around choosing an agent is to be conscious of the varied features that a good agent has.

How do estate agents work?

You would be surprised at how little we actually know about the processes and routines estate agents use to work with property.

It’s quite sophisticated stuff.

There is a lot going on behind an estate agent’s window, and it’s important to be aware of standard procedures that they follow, just so you’re more confident as the process develops.

To get to the core of what they do, all you really need to understand here is that estate agents are experts in marketing and selling property. This is their core business, and it is why people use them. The process around buying and selling a home can be a daunting one, but estate agents know what needs to be done and how to do it most efficiently.

Estate agents also manage a significant amount of paperwork involved in buying and selling property. This is the kind of paperwork that needs a professional, informed approach, and that is why agents are trusted with the job. They know what needs completing and when.

A solicitor is involved in much of the buying and selling process. Estate agents are a useful intermediary between the solicitor and you. Again, this is about having plenty of experience of working with legal teams. An estate agent will make things work quickly (solicitors can be very slow) and keep you informed of progress every step of the way.

The chain

One of the biggest ways in which an estate agent can help you survive the buying and selling process is by managing the chain. First-time buyers need not worry about having to sell a property, but everyone else does.Estate Agents and The Property Chain

Estate agents are able to manage a chain confidently. They can keep in touch with the various people involved in a chain, and make sure that everything happens according to a timescale. You can, of course, do all of this yourself, but the end result you need will take a lot longer to materialise if you’re working on a job or bringing up a family, for example.

Agents can take your instruction and keep an eye on all the links in a chain. By doing this, they take away the stress. If the chain is particularly long, you may welcome managing all the different and complicated aspects of the house sale or purchase.

If the process is proving to be stressful and that stress is centred on money, an estate agent can offer advice to help the whole thing run more smoothly. If price is an issue and it could derail the whole situation, your estate agent is the one who can offer you a view of the market, and then negotiate with the other party for a better offer.

Estate agent fees

This is how an estate agent makes their money. So when you instruct an agent to work for you, be ready for a considerable financial outlay. This changes with each agent, but year-on-year, it is fairly easy to predict that there is an area within which fees operate.

In fact, if you need to know just a simple average, the market has flattened out a little.

How much, you say?

It is now accurate to say that fees can range from just under 1% to around 3.5%. It’s important to remember that VAT is now included in fee quotes. This certainly wasn't that case until quite recently, so that's a good thing.

The bad aspect about VAT and fees is that, while agents have to include VAT (so 1.4%, for example, actually means 1.4%) some don’t. It is your right (as a consumer) to see a full fee cost. If it is not made clear that the quote includes VAT, ask for the true figure.

In 2016 the Property Ombudsman made it a requirement that agencies include VAT.

Find out more on how to choose an estate agent:

When do I pay estate agent fees?

If you're buying a home, there is no need to pay any fees to an estate agent. Basically, if you're buying and the agent asks for fees, you can confidently say that you know that fees are not relevant in that situation.

Fees come into play when you're selling, simply because selling a house is a more complex process than buying one. This is where those fee percentages mentioned earlier in this post will become a reality.

Generally speaking, fees are payable at the end of the process, when the property has been sold. Bear in mind that some agencies can ask for some fees upfront. One key tip to remember, especially if you are using a number of agencies, is that you can haggle over fees. There is nothing to stop you doing this.

Questions to ask an estate agent

This is a big deal.

You’re about to sell a property and move into a new one. This is going to cost you thousands of pounds, so knowing the right questions to ask is absolutely vital. Also, don't assume that an agent is going to offer you all the information you need. It's normally not in their best interests to do so, especially when you consider that they're working for large commissions.

What are your fees?

Estate agents can sell a home with the bare minimum of fees involved. They don’t have to charge the Earth, and some don’t. But make sure you are completely clear on the fees the agent charges, and have it in writing if you’re seriously considering using them.

What do we need to do for communication?

This is a key question, because so much happens during a house sale and you need to know how you can quickly get in touch. Remember that things can go wrong, and having quick and easy access to your agent makes all the difference.

Do they have a direct phone line? Having your agent on the end of a phone is really what you want to insist upon. In addition to that, you’ll need a good email address so you can communicate on a more detailed level (not to mention being able to track the process through an email trail).

You’ll also need to be clear on the working hours of the agent. They don’t work 24/7, but you should be able to know when to reach them, and probably what the best time of day is for reaching them.

Can you help with presentation?

Although you can market your home yourself, you don't have to market your home, that’s what the agent does. This should include some advice and tips from them on how to present your property so it has maximum appeal. It’s a well-known fact that your home should be as much of a ‘blank canvas’ as possible. This allows prospective buyers to imagine themselves in the property.

The estate agent may be able to offer you considerable input into how the property should be presented. The number of properties they have sold in the past puts them in this unique position. Remember to ask for their advice because they know what sells.

What price will I get?

This is another question that you're well within your rights to ask. An estate agent of quality will be able to immediately offer you a realistic figure when you ask them the price you can expect. Again, this is about the agent knowing the market locally, and being able to give you a clear idea of what your kind of property is going for with current market conditions.

While you’re pursuing this question, make sure you know what you expect to sell the property for. It can often help to keep your own ideas in perspective. At the same time, if you’ve done a little research, and the agent is way off the price you expected, it may be worth looking elsewhere.

We suggest finding out the value of your house with us. It's free and you can get a valuation in under 24 hours.

How soon can you sell it?

As you can imagine, it is virtually impossible to give you an exact timeframe, even within weeks. This is because the market is constantly changing, and what people like and need in your area is a changing variable too.

The one thing your agent can do in this area is give you an honest appraisal of time to sale based on their understanding of the local area. They will know how long it takes for certain property types. You need to hear what they think.

Is there any other way of doing this?

The modern estate agent has a multitude of responsibilities and the property industry is extremely complex. It has hundreds of different ways of doing things, and selling is no different.

With local markets differing massively, sometimes it is worth looking for cash buyers. There are not many individuals that can buy with cash, but there are now a number of companies that buy in this way. And they buy quickly too.

It is well worthwhile sourcing a company that can pay cash. The attraction of this method is the speed of the whole process, with some cash buyer companies able to turn a sale around in as little as two weeks.

You'll see a lower offer from a cash buyer company, simply because they have to make a profit. But this is something that sellers usually don't mind, because of that quick turnaround.

What about online agencies?

There are hundreds, we know. But that is actually a good thing in a way, because you can take your time online, and shortlist a few that seem to fit what you need. Be aware that it can be very dangerous to go in with an agency without due diligence.

Research a number of online agencies, and make sure they are contactable first. A website that doesn’t include contact details is a definite no. Look for testimonials from happy customers. And don’t be afraid of asking an agent if you could contact those customers to get a feel for why things worked out so well.

Read: Online vs. High Street Agents Explained

When choosing an agent, take your time and shortlist. And also remember that you don't have to go down the traditional route. With the growth of agents online, and the increase in numbers of reputable cash house buyer companies, the choices are less complex.

Further Reading:

Selling Your Property at Auction vs. Private Sale

Conveyancing Process